The Baltic city of Tallinn is already well known with weekend partygoers but this North European gem also boasts medieval history, gorgeous green parks and engaging museums. Built atop Toompea Hill, the cobbled streets and meandering alleyways knit together inside the ancient city walls. It’s time to discover a different side to Tallinn with our guide to the top things to do in Tallinn, which served as the joint European Capital of Culture in 2011;
Wander Tallinn’s Old Town – Guarded by medieval walls, the Old Town spreads out beneath its protectorate fortress like a patchwork quilt. Buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries jostle alongside newer incarnations. No wonder it was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1997. Don’t miss the St Catherine Guild, the House of the Brotherhood of the Blackheads and the magnificent Guildhall.
Explore the Gothic Town Hall – The Town Hall Square, Raekoja Plats, has held markets within Tallinn since the eleventh century, and today travellers grab a coffee, watch the people go by and admire the Gothic Town Hall building. In fact the 14th century structure is the only Gothic 14th century Town Hall still standing in north Europe!
Discover the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – Possibly the most striking religious building in Estonia, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral boasts handsome onion-shaped domes. Built in 1900, the Russian Orthodox Church is named after the 13th century hero that defeated the Teutonic Knights.
Experience the Kadriorg Palace and Gardens – Originally built in 1718 as a summer residence for an imperial Russian Tsar, the Kadriorg is an opulent example. Set within 222 acres, the carefully manicured Kadriorg Park is as much of an attraction as the Peter the Great Museum located in the cottage behind the palace. Wander the greater Kadriorg district for a glimpse into Russian Tsarist Estonia.
Browse the Kumu Art Museum – A sight to behold is the futuristic Kumu Art Museum which is seven storeys of glass and copper. Featuring both permanent and temporary exhibits, the highlights are the modern art installations and the pieces covering the USSR period.
Marvel at the KGB Museum – This gem is located in the Hotel Viru, which was actually occupied and monitored by the KGB during the Cold War. Today it’s still a working hotel and the museum section contains intriguing exhibits on the ‘two worlds’.
Admire the view from Oleviste Church – Dedicated to the King Olav II of Norway from the 11th century, the crowning glory of Oleviste Church is undoubtedly the commanding view from the observation deck. The steep climb takes you about halfway up the 124 meter structure for views over the patchwork cobbled streets below and beyond the spires which pierce the Estonian skyline
Wander the Museum of Architecture – The restored Rotermanni Salt building is a limestone warehouse which today houses the interesting National Architecture Museum, which covers the rich architectural history of Tallinn. Permanent collections chart the rise of Jugendstil, wooden and functionalism architectural styles that have all shaped the city since medieval times.
Head for the Beach – Did you know that Tallinn is blessed with several very good quality beaches along the Baltic Sea coast? The main city beaches of Pirita, Harku, Stroomi, Kakumäe and Pikakari all have lifeguards and facilities, although the sands are packed with local families come summertime. For a little slice of peace and quiet, get out of the city and head to rural Laulasmaa or Kaberneeme beach instead.
Catch a Music Festival – Alongside lively nightclubs, bustling bars and thriving cafes, Tallinn also lays on a packed annual calendar of music festivals. The 800 year old buildings come alive come wintertime with the Tallinn Winter Classical Music Festival. Don’t miss the Tallinn Music Week held each springtime and catch the Tallinn International Festival Jazzkaar which is held in November/December. Finally, the Õllesummer Festival is the biggie, packing in more than 70,000 festivalgoers each summer to enjoy local and international artists.
Tallinn Travel Facts
By Air: Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport is just 5km from the center of Tallinn on Lake Ülemiste
By Sea: Arrive via catamaran or ferry, hopping over from Helsinki in Finland is popular
By Public Transport: Buses, trains, trams and trolleybuses cover the city and beyond
Time difference: GMT +2 hours
Visa and travel advice: FCO
More information: via the Tourist Information Centre in the Old Town and via the PureTravel Estonia Travel Guide